U.S. government guarantees on securities totaling $419 billion for bank bailouts provide an early test of President Barack Obama’s pledge to be open with taxpayers about what they have at risk in the credit crisis.
Bloomberg News asked the Treasury Department Jan. 26 to disclose what securities it backed over the past two months in a second round of actions to prop up Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. Department spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Jan. 27 she would seek an answer. None had been provided by the close of business yesterday.
As Congress debates an $875 billion economic stimulus bill, the guarantees represent a less publicized commitment. The public’s stake has grown along with assurances tying the Treasury to the fate of corporate loans and securities backed by home mortgages, car loans and credit card debt.
“Guarantees are only meaningful if there’s a real chance that someone will have to pay out for them,” said Representative Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat and a member of the House Financial Services committee that is reviewing the bailouts. “The conception that guarantees cost nothing is a misconception.”
Obama promised a new era of government openness as he took office last week, issuing a statement telling agencies “to adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure” in responding to requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, head of the National Economic Council, said they would emphasize accountability and transparency in using the second half of a $700 billion bank bailout fund.
Late yesterday, Geithner’s office put hundreds of pages about the fund on the department’s Web site. They did not include documents describing the guaranteed assets.